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Ceci Freed / Media Matters

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The anti-abortion misinformation promoted during the coronavirus pandemic

  • Update (4/24/20): This post has been updated with additional examples.

    As cases of COVID-19 rise in the United States, right-wing media and abortion opponents have used the pandemic to promote misinformation about their favorite targets (abortion clinics, providers, and Democrats) and to agitate for the end of legal abortion based on a false premise that abortion care is a nonessential medical service. Meanwhile, some states trying to ban abortions during the pandemic have allowed anti-abortion pregnancy centers to continue operating, and some abortion opponents are arguing that protests in front of clinics should remain as an “essential” service.

    Here is the anti-abortion misinformation being promoted by right-wing media and abortion opponents during the coronavius crisis:

  • Scientific and medical misinformation 

    Right-wing media and abortion opponents have promoted information about abortion that is unscientific and not medically sound during the coronavirus pandemic. In addition to claiming that abortion is not an essential medical service (which it is), some opponents have promoted the junk science claim of abortion reversal and said abortions result in numerous complications that will overrun clinics treating coronavirus patients. And even though the practice would help stop the spread of coronavirus, opponents have falsely argued that abortion via telemedicine is too dangerous for states or the federal government to allow. 

    In addition, some anti-abortion outlets and figures have jumped on a baseless conspiracy theory about Microsoft founder Bill Gates. They claim that recent comments from Gates about a vaccine for the coronavirus are an indication that he wants to control populations through tracking or depopulation, with some connecting the conspiracy theory to work he and his foundation have done around abortion access.

  • Misinformation: Abortion is an elective procedure, and abortion clinics are “nonessential”

  • On Fox News @ Night, Texas’ fervently anti-abortion attorney general, Ken Paxton, claimed that the Texas order banning most abortions was put in place because “we're trying to save lives, and if they want to pursue elective procedures, they potentially are going to cost lives. And, you know, they're supposedly about choice. Well, here there's a choice of holding off on elective procedures.” On April 9, a federal ruling allowed some abortions in the state to go forward.

  • On another episode of Fox News @ Night, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick made a similar argument, saying, “So, look, it's called choice. And what does a choice mean? It's elective. You're choosing. Now, we did make an exception here if the life of the mother was at risk. But otherwise, it's clearly an elective procedure.”

  • During a White House press briefing on the coronavirus, One America News Network White House correspondent Chanel Rion asked Trump, “Two states have suspended elective abortions to make more resources available for coronavirus cases. … Do you agree with states who are placing coronavirus victims above elective abortions, and should more states be doing the same?”

  • In an editorial, the Washington Examiner wrote:

    Planned Parenthood’s doors are still open. The liberal states have argued that abortion is an “essential” service because it qualifies as healthcare, and some of the more centrist states have simply fallen for the false narrative that Planned Parenthood is a healthcare provider first and an abortion center second.

    Planned Parenthood is not an “essential” organization. It never has been. Indeed, when the organization was given the chance to aid the essential fight against a threat to public health with resources or assistance to overworked doctors and nurses, it chose instead to close its health centers and focus on aborting babies. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Planned Parenthood cares little about preserving human life.

  • In an opinion piece for Townhall, Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, said:

    The abortion industry has argued that in light of the need to prioritize essential and nonessential care for Covid-19 sufferers and the public at large, abortion must be considered a vital procedure.

    Far from an essential service, abortion is not a treatment curing pregnancy. Prioritizing ending life in the name of a life-ending virus is heartless in the extreme.

  • Misinformation: “Abortion reversal” is an alternative for patients who regret taking an abortion pill

  • Anti-abortion organization Susan B. Anthony List touted the concept of “abortion reversal” for anyone who was “scared due to the COVID-19 outbreak and took the first dose of the abortion pill”:

  • Misinformation: Keeping clinics open will contribute to emergency rooms becoming overwhelmed

  • Susan B. Anthony List sent an email to subscribers that abortion clinics that remain open are allegedly “putting women at risk for complications that will further overwhelm hospital emergency rooms during this already trying time.”

    Screenshot of Susan B. Anthony List email

  • Anti-abortion organization March for Life tweeted:

  • and other abortion opponents sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services calling for guidance from the agency to stop clinics from performing abortions. As part of their reasoning, the opponents wrote, “By ceasing both surgical and chemical abortions now, Planned Parenthood will free up much needed medical equipment and decrease the demand placed on ER’s due to complications from both medical and surgical abortion. This will protect women who will, without doubt, need follow-up care, including infection treatment and transfusions, from the nation’s emergency care centers and hospitals.”

  • Misinformation: Abortion via telemedicine is dangerous and should not be allowed

  • Media Research Center attacked abortion providers advocating for providing medication abortion via telemedicine:

    Amid mass panic over the seemingly inevitable coronavirus outbreak sweeping the country, some in the abortion industry are using the widespread alarm to tout the importance of…abortion.

    Why? Well, that’s unclear, given that abortion has nothing at all to do with the coronavirus. Even still, several abortionists and abortion advocates have taken to Twitter to stump for the public’s “right” to access abortion pills via telemedicine.

  • Students for Life of America wrote a blog post responding to abortion provider Dr. Daniel Grossman's call to “expand telemedicine to patients, including for medication abortion.” The group called him “chief spokesman for the abortion industry” and claimed he was using the coronavirus crisis to promote keeping “RU-486 chemical abortion drugs freely available on the Internet and without much regulation.”

  • The Heritage Foundation’s Melanie Israel wrote for The Daily Signal:

    Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has loosened some regulations that apply to telemedicine, restrictions on accessing chemical abortion pills remain in place.

    However, abortion advocates have criticized this policy, which is in place to protect women’s health and safety. 


    The current precautions for chemical abortions are not strong enough as it is. The Trump administration should resist calls from abortion advocates to weaken important safety standards that are meant to protect women from further adverse health consequences.

  • Addressing concerns that the expansion of telemedicine in Pennsylvania could include abortion, anti-abortion organization Family Research Council wrote in a blog post: 

    Few legal drugs wreak havoc on the human body like the chemical abortion pill. If a doctor doesn’t thoroughly examine the pregnant woman seeking the abortion pill for complicating conditions, the patient is at an incredible risk of the extreme bleeding that has become the pill’s life-threatening signature.

    As American hospitals are quickly becoming overwhelmed, this drug becomes exponentially more dangerous by leaving women at the mercy of life-threatening complications that their health care system may not be able to intercept. With COVID-19 response taking top priority among medical professionals, government leaders have an ethical obligation to protect their constituents from additional medical harm, especially vulnerable pregnant women, during a time of crisis.

  • Lila Rose, founder and president of Live Action, tweeted:

  • Misinformation: Bill Gates’ comments about a coronavirus vaccine are part of conspiracy to control people or cause depopulation

  • Writing up Gates’ comments that a coronavirus vaccine is needed to safely return to normal working life, anti-abortion outlet LifeSiteNews noted, “Gates, an abortion supporter and population control advocate, has spoken about using vaccines in the past to reduce the world’s population.”

  • While others in right-wing media spread conspiracy theories about Gates, Live Action’s news outlet published a story saying that Gates’ foundation is “a known financier of pro-abortion organizations” and “is also funding an international ‘family planning’ organization which distributes the abortion pill worldwide.” Live Action noted, “Bill Gates is often criticized for his support of population control” and “has bemoaned how population growth is increasing in developing nations.” Rose and March for Life promoted the story to their followers on social media.

  • Anti-abortion extremist Elizabeth Johnston, who goes by The Activist Mommy, posted about Gates on Facebook, attacking him for what she claimed was the promotion of “forced vaccinations” and population control.

  • Misinformation about abortion clinics and providers

    Some states, including Ohio and Texas, have moved to include abortion care as a “nonessential” service that must be curtailed during the coronavirus pandemic. But according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “abortion is not an elective surgery” in part because it cannot be indefinitely delayed. 

    Right-wing media and abortion opponents have promoted the myths that abortion clinics use up personal protective equipment (PPEs) needed by hospitals battling coronavirus, that the virus will spread in unsanitary abortion clinics, and that clinics are staying open for “profit” motives. On the contrary, abortion providers are putting their lives on the line to continue to provide crucial care, and clinics are following medical guidelines to keep their premises safe for the patients. Most abortions also require very little PPE. In addition, despite abortion opponents’ claim otherwise, abortion care is provided as an essential service and not as a major source of income for clinics.

    Abortion opponents’ dishonest attacks on clinics and providers are indicative of their real intent: to agitate for the end of legal abortion. In addition, past restrictions on abortion pushed by abortion opponents could now contribute to the spread of the coronavirus, as some states have banned medication abortion via telemedicine -- in which doctors prescribe medicine via webcam -- or have passed burdensome regulations including waiting periods requiring multiple visits to clinics.

  • Misinformation: Abortion clinics want to stay open because they are all about profit

  • National Review’s Alexandra DeSanctis wrote, “As doctors and nurses struggle to find the supplies they need and work round the clock to keep COVID-19 patients alive and healthy, Planned Parenthood is busy soliciting your help while they keep the doors open to end unborn human lives.” DeSanctis said she had received a fundraising email from Planned Parenthood and “the most prominent part of the e-mail was the large ‘donate now’ link pasted at the bottom.”

  • A video from the anti-abortion organization Live Action alleged that “while people worldwide are making financial sacrifices to save lives, the abortion industry is sacrificing lives to maximize profit.”

  • Anti-abortion organization American Life League sent an email to subscribers saying that Planned Parenthood “is desperately hoovering in cash. Not to save lives, but to take them.”

    Screencapture of American Life League email

  • Kristan Hawkins, president of the anti-abortion organization Students for Life of America, tweeted:

  • Misinformation: Clinics are demanding PPE even though hospitals need it for coronavirus response

  • Breitbart’s Susan Berry wrote, “Planned Parenthood is defying an Ohio order to discontinue elective abortions during the coronavirus pandemic, even though its abortion clinics are using up valuable personal protective equipment (PPE) that is needed by medical personnel who are treating the infection caused by the virus.” Of note, after that article was written, a district court temporarily blocked Ohio from enforcing its abortion ban order.

  • On Fox News @ Night, anchor Shannon Bream repeated Texas’ faulty logic that the state halted abortion access in the state because of an “emergency order to conserve medical supplies.” Fox News correspondent Matt Finn mentioned the lawsuit Planned Parenthood filed against the order, which explained, “Abortions can be as simple as a pill and don't use that much personal protective equipment or PPE.” But Finn then countered that “at least one Planned Parenthood website asks people to consider donating PPE, like hand sanitizer, home-sewn masks, shoe covers, and surgical hats to protect medical staff.”

  • Anti-abortion organization March for Life tweeted about a report from the Guttmacher Institute outlining the difficulties of reproductive health care during the coronavirus outbreak:

  • On One America News Network’s Tipping Point with Liz Wheeler, host Liz Wheeler said, “While hospitals treating COVID-19 patients -- who are fighting for their lives -- are facing a dangerous shortage of face masks, abortion clinics have the gall to publicly ask for donations of masks for themselves.”

  • Hawkins wrote an opinion piece for the Washington Examiner alleging that instead of donating its PPE, Planned Parenthood “seems to insist that keeping its personal protective equipment to end lives without interruption is more important than contributing to those trying to save lives at the risk of their own.” Hawkins continued, “The least Planned Parenthood can do is take a break from its abortion business and contribute to those efforts.”

  • Misinformation: Clinics will expose patients and doctors to the coronavirus

  • On Fox Business’ Lou Dobbs Tonight, Fox News contributor Robert Jeffress claimed that in continuing to perform abortions, Planned Parenthood “would actually put the lives of medical technicians at risk” and “would be willing to tie up our medical facilities during the coronavirus crisis all in an effort to preserve their so-called right to murder children. This is absurd.”

  • Frank Pavone, who is leading President Donald Trump’s outreach to anti-abortion voters for his 2020 campaign, wrote for the Washington Examiner:

    If more than 2,000 women each day show up to abortion businesses, the nonpandemic normal in the United States, imagine how many thousands would then potentially be exposed to the virus, and then bring it home to their families and others they might encounter, even in their diminished daily lives.

    Abortion mills are not known for their attention to hygiene, or for hiring well-qualified staff. Could coronavirus be lurking in these places? There is no doubt.

    Beyond exposure at abortion mills themselves, women sent to hospitals after botched abortions would then be exposed to many more potential carriers, and dwindling medical resources would be further depleted. The women also might be infected, thus exposing vital healthcare providers to the deadly virus.

    Women will continue to be exposed to the virus, and expose others, to access a procedure that is almost always elective.

  • Anti-abortion organization Operation Rescue alleged, “Abortion clinics and hospitals where some abortions are done are ignoring the U.S. Surgeon General’s guidelines to halt elective surgical procedures, and are booking elective abortion appointments despite the threat of accelerating the spread of the disease.”

  • Anti-abortion news outlet complained about people crossing state lines to access abortion care, which can be necessitated by restrictions in the states where they live:

    Women were also coming in from Louisiana, which has been particularly hard-hit with the virus. Women from Louisiana had to drive through multiple states to get to Kansas. These women had the potential of spreading the virus along the way. People who are not yet symptomatic, but have been exposed to COVID-19 can still transmit the virus to others.

  • Similarly, the news outlet of Live Action wrote about patients going to an abortion clinic in Illinois, “Some of them had traveled there from six surrounding states. According to Operation Rescue, even though there are recommendations from the National Coronavirus Taskforce to avoid interstate travel.” Live Action quoted Troy Newman who said the clinics “are also endangering Americans over a vast geographical region, and could be prolonging the current health crisis. This is a public health emergency that must be addressed by the State of Illinois. For the good of the public, Illinois must shut down their abortion mills.”

  • Misinformation: Abortion clinics are lawless, as evidenced by those defying state orders to provide abortions

  • Operation Rescue sent a fundraising email saying that “the abortion cartel is absolutely disgusting” and “will knowingly flout the law to keep their doors open -- AND increase their customers’ risk of infection with a deadly disease in the process.”

    Screenshot of an Operation Rescue email

  • Lila Rose, founder and president of Live Action, tweeted:

  • The Federalist wrote, “As health care facilities across the country cancel all elective procedures to save space and resources for Wuhan virus patients, Planned Parenthood and other abortion industry organizations are forging ahead with elective abortions, despite the risks and state mandates.”

  • Even though it claims to be a “news” outlet, tweeted out information about Maryland abortion clinics “defying order to stop killing babies in non-essential procedures” and the number for its followers to call to demand the order be enforced. Of note, Maryland abortion clinics do not appear to be in violation of the order as they continue to provide care.

  • Kristan Hawkins also drew attention to a clinic in Texas that she claimed was still performing abortions despite Texas’ order banning most abortions. Hawkins urged her followers to call the Texas attorney general and “ask him to enforce the order.” Later, Hawkins tweeted:

  • Misinformation attacking Democrats

    Right-wing media -- Fox News in particular -- and other abortion opponents have recently tried to exploit the coronavirus pandemic to attack Democrats for alleged abortion “extremism.” When the House of Representatives took up a stimulus bill to deal with the impact of the coronavirus, these outlets and personalities attacked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) by promoting the inaccurate allegation that she tried to include “abortion funding” in the bill. As the legislation made its way through the Senate, the right-wing media narrative turned to an allegation that Democrats were holding up the bill because they wanted funding for Planned Parenthood included. In fact, it was Republicans who tried to include explicit language around abortion in the spending bill by adding Hyde Amendment language, which prohibits federal funding from covering the costs of abortions, except in very limited circumstances. Republicans also targeted Democrats for wanting to include assistance for nonprofits that receive Medicaid funding, such as “community health centers, rape crisis centers and disability service providers” and which could have also included Planned Parenthood.

    In addition, right-wing media figures and abortion opponents also launched attacks on New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, seizing on his statement in a news conference that “we're not going to accept a premise that human life is disposable.” Right-wing media used Cuomo’s comment to fuel another round of dishonest outrage, including reviving a line of attack about the governor’s expansion of abortion access in his state last year (they falsely claimed he was promoting “infanticide”). 

    Right-wing media and abortion opponents also attacked Democratic governors for comments or actions related to keeping abortion clinics open under their stay-at-home orders. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer faced multiple lines of attack for her stay-at-home orders, including comments she made on the podcast The Axe Files in response to a question about how some states are banning or restricting abortion during the coronavirus pandemic. Whitmer said that “some people have tried to say that” abortion care “is considered the same as” elective surgeries that states are suspending during the outbreak. She said that was “ridiculous” and that “a woman’s health care, her whole future, her ability to decide if and when she starts a family is not an election, it is fundamental to her life. It is life-sustaining. And it’s something that government should not be getting in the middle of.” Right-wing media jumped on the “life-sustaining” part of her comments and also attacked her for keeping abortion clinics open during the pandemic.

  • Misinformation: Democrats in Congress were trying to include funding for abortions and Planned Parenthood

  • Senior White House officials gave right-wing outlet The Daily Caller an “exclusive,” providing the following talking points about the White House wanting to include Hyde Amendment language in the spending bill:

    “A new mandatory funding stream that does not have Hyde protections would be unprecedented,” one White House official explained. “Under the guise of protecting people, Speaker Pelosi is working to make sure taxpayer dollars are spent covering abortion — which is not only backwards, but goes against historical norms.”

    A second White House official referred to the provision as a “slush fund” and yet another questioned “what the Hyde Amendment and abortion have to do with protecting Americans from coronavirus?”

  • Anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion organization Family Policy Alliance ran Facebook ads claiming that while “government leaders at every level were taking unprecedented action to protect American lives from the coronavirus,” Pelosi “was using the crisis to seek funding to take more lives through abortions. You read that correctly – trading lives for lives.”

  • On America’s Newsroom, Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) claimed that Democrats wouldn’t clarify in the bill that the federal money it included could not fund abortions, a situation he said could cause the country to “spend up to a billion dollars effectively on state-sponsored abortions, state-funded abortions.” Co-anchor Ed Henry furthered Biggs' claim, saying, “A lot of people [are] raising eyebrows as to why Speaker Pelosi wanted that abortion funding, as you say, in there for something that’s an emergency.”

  • Fox News’ Tucker Carlson said on his program, “As the nation is fighting a pandemic, [House Democrats] are worried about abortion. This virus does not kill children; they wanted to fix that.”

  • On Fox News’ The Ingraham Angle, host Laura Ingraham said, “This is where the Democrats always go: always has to go to the culture of death, as we are supposedly fighting death and destruction of this virus. We have got to keep funding death on the other side of abortion.”

  • Misinformation: Democrats cannot talk about saving lives when they support “infanticide”

  • During a monologue on his show, Carlson responded to Cuomo's comment at the news conference: “‘Human life is not disposable,’ lectures the man who just signed a law legalizing abortion until birth. All right. Take a deep breath, governor. In a moment like this, talk like that -- overstatement, hyperbole -- is not helpful.”

  • National Review’s Alexandra DeSanctis responded to Cuomo on Twitter:

  • On The Ingraham Angle, Ingraham slammed a reporter’s question to Trump about “how many deaths are acceptable” from COVID-19 and claimed that “these same people don't bat an eye when infanticide bills sail through New York legislature.”

  • The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh attacked Cuomo, saying he “believes in, and has helped to facilitate, the murder of fully-developed and viable infants in the womb” and that Democrats believe “destruction of innocent life can sometimes be a positive good and cause for celebration.”

  • On Tipping Point with Liz Wheeler, Hawkins said Cuomo “is the very same man who last January lit up One World Trade Center pink in honor of the radical abortion bill that legalized abortion up until the moment of birth in New York state.”

  • Misinformation: Democratic governors shouldn’t keep abortion clinics open while businesses are closed

  • On Fox News’ Your World with Neil Cavuto and Fox & Friends, Meshawn Maddock, a conservative organizer behind protests in Michigan against coronavirus safety measures, attacked Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for “keeping abortion clinics open” but banning “the sale of the American flag.” Cavuto incorrectly responded, “I don’t know if I can verify that.” In another Fox & Friends segment, co-host Brian Kilmeade claimed Whitmer’s order meant “you can't leave your house to buy a gallon of paint or any flooring, but you can leave your house to get an abortion.” As Snopes explained, Whitmer’s stay-at-home order included guidelines to cordon off sections of department stores related to paint and flooring (as just two examples). Further, Snopes wrote that the false claim that Whitmer banned the sale of American flags appeared to originate with one tweet showing a box of flags behind caution tape.

  • Anti-abortion organization Susan B. Anthony List:

  • SBA List also sent an email calling on its supporters to sign a petition to Whitmer “urging her to stop exploiting this crisis and to SHUT DOWN Planned Parenthood and other abortion businesses.”

    Screencapture of a Susan B. Anthony List email

  • On Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight, host Tucker Carlson said, “Gretchen Whitmer is a ghoul. She is a dangerous ideologue who knows nothing about science and doesn't care to learn. Whitmer deems elective abortion essential because the abortion lobby has bankrolled her political career.” Carlson’s guest, conservative author J.D. Vance, double-downed on Carlson’s claim, saying, “If I'm a person living in Michigan right now, I wonder if those restrictions are about public health or if they're about who has a political line to the governor. And I think, unfortunately, for some of these issues, we know the answer.” Vance alleged, “At the end of the day, there's no rational public health justification for telling people they can't buy tomato seeds on the one hand, but they can buy marijuana on the other, or they can get an abortion.”

  • On Fox News’ Justice with Judge Jeanine, host Jeanine Pirro attacked Whitmer because “she keeps abortion clinics open to get an abortion, but don't you dare even think about going to church.”

  • Right-wing site The Gateway Pundit used the outrage to re-up a 2018 picture of Whitmer wearing a hat that read “Planned Parenthood Makes America Great.”

  • Susan B. Anthony List also began to attack other Democratic governors over allowing abortion care to continue during the coronavirus pandemic, including what it called a “thread of shame” on Twitter:

  • On Fox News’ Cavuto Live, National Review’s Andrew C. McCarthy attacked Democratic officials’ stay-at-home orders by claiming that residents won’t support orders they think are politically motivated and being enforced to “advance an ideological agenda.” As an example, McCarthy pointed to the arrest of a clinic protester in San Francisco.

  • On Fox & Friends:

    NEWT GINGRICH (FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR): Some of the governors have shown their ideological bias so that one governor, for example, said it was OK for Planned Parenthood to stay open for abortions but it wasn't OK for the churches to have services. Well, that's clearly just an ideological abuse of the emergency. And I think that's part of what has people with their teeth on edge because they're watching politicians abuse their power.